10 things to check about the plumbing before buying a home.
It’s true, older homes are charming and full of character. In many cases the materials stand the test of time but not always; plumbing is a different animal. Below are 10 things to check before writing the big check.
1) Sewer line. Have a professional look at the sewer line to the street. It’s important to run a video camera through the line to identify potential problems. Tree roots, corrosion or clogs can all break down the pipe, and trust us, you don’t want it to collapse.
2) Water heater. Check the age, water heaters should last at least 10 years, if it’s much older than that, you might consider replacing it. Look at the location, will it cause problems if it leaks?
3) Toilets. Check for leaks at the base, this can lead to significant damage. Sealing the leak will make the problem worse. Look for a rocking toilet, discoloration at base or warping. Flush each toilet to make sure there are no clogs.
4) Water supply pipes.
- Determine the age of the pipes and whether or not they have been replaced.
- Are the pipes copper or plastic? If so, they have probably been replaced. Most copper and plastic don’t corrode like steel. However, some plastic is not approved for use inside, such as PVC pipe.
- If they are galvanized steel, they are probably old and will eventually have to be replaced. Look for small holes which could be rust.
- Are the pipes a mixture of different materials? This is usually a sign of minimal repairs being done and could require replacement.
- If the pipes are cast iron, they will have to be replaced because of mineral build up, corrosion or leaks.
- Pipes made from polybutylene should be replaced. These pipes a grayish, flexible plastic used from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. Chlorine erodes them over time.
- All lead pipes should be replaced.
5) Inside water lines. Check the lines you can see—either under the sink or in the basement ceiling. Look for water discoloration or leaks.
6) Drain lines. Even though these lines generally don’t corrode, play it safe and look down the drain.
7) Water taps. Turn on the taps to check for rust. If the home has been sitting vacant, it’s normal for a bit of rust to drain out, but if the house is occupied it could be corrosion.
8) Water Pressure. To test the water pressure, turn on all faucets at once. To get high enough pressure, you’ll need 3/4” pipes from water source to home, and at least a 1/2” or more to faucets.
9) Crawl space and basements. Look for water damage, leaky pipes or inadequate repairs.
10) Shower pressure. Although there are many models with varying pressure, make sure there is a solid stream of water.
Homeowners walk a fine line between maintaining existing plumbing fixtures and knowing when to bite the bullet and replace them. Weighing the cost of replacement with the potential cost of a plumbing mess isn’t easy so here are a few tips to help you assess the situation.
First things first, figure out what kind of pipes you have and how old they are. Supply pipes made of brass, copper or galvanized steel should last 80-100 years. Drain lines made of cast iron should also last this long. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pipes generally last 25-40 years, but are traditionally known to break or leak. These figures can vary dramatically depending the quality of your water, the quality of the material used, and how well the systems have been maintained.
If your pipes are on the older side, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be replaced. However, if you have lead or polybutylene pipes they should be replaced regardless. Lead leaches into drinking water and polybutylene is extremely prone to leakage.
Check areas around pipes for discoloration, stains, dimpling, or flaking, which could mean you have a leak. If you see anything out of the ordinary, look for other leaks— chances are there’s more.
Watch the color of your water, especially after vacation when it hasn’t been running. If it’s a yellow or brownish color, you could have rust.
Do you have hard water? If so, you have an above average concentration of minerals like calcium and magnesium, which leaves scale, or a film, behind. This film can accumulate in your pipes and other water-involved fixtures, eroding them.
Fixtures are relatively inexpensive to replace and can save you money in the long run. Newer model faucets, showerheads and hoses generally reduce water usage and are more energy efficient. If you have leaks, it’s best to replace the entire fixture instead of trying to fix it.
Toilets can last a long time, so it’s easy to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but the improved water efficiency justifies the investment; not just for the money savings, but because it’s better for the environment.
Definitely replace the toilet if the porcelain is cracked, if it’s flushing poorly, constantly running, or has a hissing sound which means the float and fill valve may be wearing out. The handle alone can be replaced if it won’t flush, or if the toilet constantly runs.
Traditional water heaters should last 10-15 years, and tankless heaters should be good for 20 years depending, again, on the quality of your water. Replace your conventional heater if the pilot light keeps going out, or if the circuit or breaker keeps tripping in a tankless water heater.
Other indicators it’s on it’s way out are if the burner or heating element is failing, the thermostat breaks, valves are sticking, or if there are leaks and rust around the heater.
Garbage disposals should probably be replaced every 10 years. It’s time for a new one if you constantly get clogs, your food takes a long time to break down, you have to keep resetting the disposal, or if there is a lingering odor that won’t go away.